Cardinal's visit to OSV inspires fresh humility, faith, evangelization

Cardinal’s visit inspires fresh humility, faith, evangelization

When I lived in Rome, running into a cardinal wasn’t that unusual of an occurrence. Even though there’s significantly fewer than 200 cardinals worldwide, most of them make Rome a regular destination. After all, the whole point of a cardinal is to offer consultation to the pope, and to elect a successor to him when he passes away. So they get to know Rome pretty well. 

Where I live now, not so much. Of course, in North America, we’ve got only a little more than a dozen or so cardinals spread out over a vast area, so sightings are bound to be fewer. 

Thus our surprise and pleasure several weeks ago at the visit to Our Sunday Visitor (in northeast Indiana) of a cardinal. 

Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo heads the Archdiocese of Ranchi in eastern India. It turns out that several of the Indian priests serving in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend hail from dioceses in his region, and he had come in part to check on them. 

The cardinal spent the better part of the afternoon meeting with a few of us, and taking a tour of our facility. The following day he celebrated Mass in the small parish-amid-cornfields that my family attends. 

A couple of things struck me about the visit. 

First, cardinals, at least when encountered in the Renaissance halls of the Vatican, sometimes come across as “princes of the Church” in a way that can grate on egalitarian Yankee sensibilities. Aren’t these the trappings of now defunct European monarchies, not of a Church whose focus is a kingdom that is not of this world? 

Not on Cardinal Toppo. He’s from an ancient tribe on the Indian subcontinent that didn’t know Christianity until about 135 years ago and is still very poor. His parents, Ambrose and Sophia, like many of those in the community, never learned to read or write. It is mysterious to guess the ways of providence that led him to the cardinalate. 

Second, one of the key messages he seemed to have was a pointed reflection on the implications of faith. Do you really, actually believe that Jesus Christ was God, suffered and died for our sins, and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago? If so, how has that belief transformed your life? 

He told the story of the early days of the Ranchi archdiocese. A Belgian Jesuit missionary arrived in 1885 to serve a flock of exactly 52 Catholics. He died of tuberculosis seven years later (“burned out like a candle,” Cardinal Toppo says) but leaving behind an astonishing 80,000 newly baptized Catholics with 20,000 more people preparing for baptism. 

Those who truly believe that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,” want to share that incredible news with others. And in doing so, they’ll transform the world. 

I look forward to hearing from you at